Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Put your hands in the air! Exodus 17

Apologies for my silence Monday. For those of you who wait with baited breath for these posts, unbait your breath and here we go.

Moses and the children of Israel are moving from the crossing of the Red Sea into the wilderness, and they are on the way to Mount Sinai. Of course, we do not have an exact picture of the route they take, but that's another discussion entirely.

What do we have in Exodus 17 (link) is a pair of mismatched stories. The first is the fairly expected one. The Israelites, pessimists one and all apparently, are angry. They have come to a place where there is not enough water for them to drink. We have had the waters at Marah, that the Lord God made good to drink, but now we've got just no water at all.

Present here is a lesson worth repeating, because we forget it frequently. It is far too easy to mistake the works of God. The provision of drinkable water and manna in the desert was not about God showing off His ability to work those miracles. God's miracles are never about showing off. His miracles occur when the apparent physical rules that govern the universe submit to His supernatural work beyond them. Of course, one should keep in mind that those physical rules that govern the universe were put in place by Him. Gravity is as much the work of God as manna. Gravity is just His normal work.

Miracles, though, are not about God showing up just to say "Howdy!" Miracles are rather about His will. He did not provide manna just to show He could. He provided manna because food is necessary for human survival and human survival (Israelite humans, that is) was necessary to fulfill His word about delivering the Israelites. Consider that back at the burning bush, God had said that Moses would be back there. The miracles are not about the display of God's power. That is secondary to them. Miracles are about the accomplishment of the will of God.

The Israelites have forgotten at this point not that God can straighten up logistical problems, but that God has promised He would bring them to the Promised Land. If that is His promise, then no lack of water will stand in His way. That they are concerned about this shows not a lack of faith in His power, but a lack of trust in His Words.

So it can be with us as well: we can see clearly in Scripture what things God has plainly promised us. Why do we doubt that He would fulfill His Word? Do we really think that the laws of physics are really a problem? He wrote them: He knows how they work and those laws submit to His will.

After the water story, where Moses strikes the rock with the same staff he struck the Nile with and water flows, we have the story of the Amalekites coming out to fight with Israel. This is Joshua first major appearance in the narrative, as he leads the army into battle while Moses stands on hilltop overlooking the battlefield.

Noteworthy in considering this battle is Deuteronomy 25:17 which indicates that this fight is an unprovoked attack by the Amalekites. The Israelites were not bothering them, yet the Amalekites came out and attacked first the stragglers of the Israelite caravan and then the whole group.

Moses sends Joshua into battle with chosen men at his side to fight. Moses holds the staff of God in his hands, and when he holds the staff up high, the Israelites are doing well. When his hands droop, the Amalekites begin to prevail. Finally, Aaron and Hur prop up Moses and his arms, Joshua and the people defeat the Amalekites, the Amalekites leave, and God promises that the Amalekites will be trouble and will someday be eliminated.

There is something to be gained here about strengthening weak hands—there's a time to be Aaron and Hur. Not because the person you strengthen is fighting the battle but because they may be the strength of someone else who is fighting a battle.

There is something to be gained here about fighting on, even when things turn against you. Your help comes from other places, your strength from differing sources. Fight on, you cannot tell when those hands will go back up.

There is something to be gained here about striving through exhaustion. Moses had to be tired of holding that stick up, yet he held. Hold on to the stick, you do not know that the battle may depend on it. And who knows, maybe soon you will have a little help. In the form of a rock to sit on, but a little help nonetheless.

So put your hands in the air, because that is one way to show that you really do care.

Today's Nerd Note: The Amalekites show up again in Numbers, Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles. One legend regarding Haman the Agagite of the Book of Esther would make him an Amalekite descendant. They are never at peace with Israel. It is the Amalekites that burn Ziklag when it is David's home in exile. It is the Amalekites that come with the Midianites in the book of Judges.

Even prophet for cash Balaam speaks of the destruction of the Amalekites. They seem to have come from a nomadic people that one of Esau's offspring married into and then came to lead. Genesis 36:12 puts Esau's son Eliphaz fathering the Amalekites through his concubine. Which is fascinating: how many of Israel's enemies are actually sourced from inappropriate relationships by people that should have known better? Lots: Amalek, Moab, Ammon, many of the desert tribes that came from Ishmael.

Sin has long-term consequences.

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